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26.03.2013
"Young people are the future of the South Baltic region"
Interview with José Palma Andrés, Director of Territorial Co-operation, Macro-regions and North-West Europe at Directorate-General for Regional Policy, European Commission

How do you see the role of co-operation in the South Baltic area from a macro-regional point of view?

In the current evaluation process of the existing macro-regional strategies, independent experts have pointed out that macro regional strategies have less potential for creating added value for issues that are of "common concern" than for issues that are of "strategic relevance" for the macro region. I.e. the macro regional strategies are less suited to bring extra results for issues that are not macro region specific than issues where the macro region has challenges or opportunities that clearly distinguishes it from other areas.

This principle can also apply to the South Baltic area. In this respect, it is worth trying to identify the common denominator between macro-region specific issues and south Baltic area specific questions.
At first glance, certain environment and transport specific topics may be this common denominator.

By way of example, stopping the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea and the region’s many lakes is one of the main goals of the Strategy and is also identified as a key objective in the South Baltic area.

Regarding transport, the South Baltic regions suffer from inadequate number and quality of crossborder connections, which are important for the integration of the South Baltic and good connectivity of its urban system. This is part of a similar concern at Baltic Sea region level.

Therefore, it could be of mutual interest for the partners of the South Baltic area programme and priority coordinators of the areas concerned to develop a long-lasting cooperation process in order to strengthen the coherence of their respective actions.

The quintessence of the South Baltic Programme 2007-2013 is a very ambitious co-operation between the border regions of 5 Baltic countries. Yet, they all share common values, resources, markets and maritime heritage. What would be your message in this regard towards the young  people living in the South Baltic regions and capable of shaping a common future and identity?

The area covered by the Baltic Sea Programme is almost without exception peripheral; at least from the perspective of the capital cities. Furthermore, there is no metropolis located in the Programme area. However, in the modern world there is currently a general tendency of concentration of business activity and human resources in the metropolitan or capital regions.

Furthermore, the Baltic Sea region does not have any major natural resources. Though, it has a huge asset that constitutes its comparative advantage on the world's scale. Its major endowment is an educated population and especially its younger generation. Young people are the future of the South Baltic region. They are better educated than ever in the history and they can provide a major economic boost if right conditions are in place.

Yet the demographic challenge is going to hit hard the region given low birth rates and mass emigration from most of the Programme area. It is going to be one of the major challenges the region has to face in the years to come.

However, these constraints can be also a source of inspiration if looked at from the right angle. You will have to be more innovative to tackle problems and to cooperate even more to share solutions, talents and skills. You can become a frontrunner in the development of ideas that can be, given general demographic tendencies, later applicable in the rest of the world.

The young people unemployment rate is generally high in Europe. Therefore, young people should grow up in a culture that turns towards research and innovation and they should be  encouraged to be more entrepreneurship-oriented. The innovative approach, creativity, spirit of cooperation, use of modern technologies and respect for environment might become driving forces for the region. New technologies can change the notion of distance and location. If you manage to harness these elements in a smart way you can have better quality of life and more satisfaction from your job in your home towns than your peers in metropolitan regions. The future is a challenge but also a great opportunity.

The South Baltic CBC Programme 2007-2013 seeks to co-create more liveable local communities. How do you see the South Baltic region as a place for living within the macro-region around the Baltic Sea? Could the South Baltic area serve as a source of inspiration for other parts of the Baltic Sea Region?

All regions in Europe dispose of certain assets, even though not always evenly distributed. But, as I said earlier, what makes the difference is definitely the mind-set: imagination, creativity, cooperation, openness, and this is the way the South Baltic Area, in its capacity to find new solutions to the problems that the Baltic Sea region is facing will become a source of inspiration for others. 


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